One of the characteristics that distinguished Lombardi’s brilliant career was his ability to rouse team spirit and a collaborative commitment to excellence.
Building a collaborative vision and mission is more than an all-in-favor-raise-your-hands voting practice. Collaboration often includes difficult, gut-wrenching consensus-seeking dialogue. The more invested members of a group are to the vision of the group, the thornier a consensus process can be.
Michael Roberto, author of Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer: Managing for Conflict and Consensus, states that consensus “does not mean unanimity, widespread agreement on all facets of a decision, or complete approval by a majority of organization members.” Group members may not completely agree upon all aspects of decisions; however, they concur to components they can live with. Roberto explained, “Consensus has two critical components: a high level of commitment to a chosen course of action and a strong shared understanding of the rationale for the decision.”
What Consensus Is
The principal at an urban school invited me to facilitate a vision and mission process with the faculty. She explained we needed to develop faculty vision and mission statements that reflected the mission and vision of the school district.
The teachers angrily argued that the consensus process was too time-consuming and energy-draining. Bruce Tuckman referred to this as the “storming” process. His forming-norming-storming-performing theory referred to the rich process that clarified a group’s mission and vision and, in the end, united its members.
Robert Chadwick, author of Finding New Ground, added that when we share common beliefs and commitments to a common cause, it is not uncommon to strongly differ about how our decisions will be carried out. The teachers quarreled about opposing viewpoints, passionately expressed their commitment to students and to one another; laughed, cried, and designed beautiful vision and mission statements they hoped would leave a legacy of hope and promise for the future.
Consensus is at the heart of collaborative staffs with strong transformational leadership. I wanted to applaud at the end of the grueling consensus-seeking process. The staff’s vision and mission statements were printed in large letters on vinyl banners and would be signed by the teachers before the first day of school.
What Consensus Isn’t
I thought it was odd that the administrators chose not to be part of the visioning and missioning process, but I knew they were busy. I hoped the administrators would share the teachers’ excitement.
The teachers beamed when they unrolled their vision and mission statements for their principal to see. She praised their collaborative efforts. She took the vision and mission statements, rolled them into a tight scroll, and placed it on the table.
The principal invited four eighth graders to enter the room and unfurled a banner with her vision and mission statement for the upcoming school year. She distributed markers to all of the teachers and invited them to sign her statements. The principal jubilantly explained her vision and mission banner would be displayed in the foyer so everyone who entered our school would understand the deep commitment shared among all staff members for our students and our school.
I don’t believe an iron wrecking ball could have wracked more damage to staff empowerment, trust, and willingness to participate in any collaborative decision-making processes in the future.
Peter Drucker, author of Managing for the Future: The 1990s and Beyond, stated, “An effective leader knows that the ultimate task of leadership is to create human energies and human vision.” He continued, “The vision must be tied to what the firm values and the leader must make this connection in a way that the organization can understand, grasp, and support.”
I remember these crucial lessons when I facilitate vision, mission, and goal-setting strategy discussions. Teachers that were gathered in that room that day would have felt much less sadness and discouragement if the principal’s mission and vision statements would have been distributed at the beginning of the meeting without a consensus-seeking process. However, the statements were distributed after an invitation for contribution and collaboration was extended to the members of the group. Predictably, the principal’s voice dominated the “collaborative” meetings throughout the rest of the year. Meetings started, teachers listened, and meetings were adjourned.
Silence does not mean others are listening. It simply means they are not speaking.
A cooperative environment supports and encourages a spirit of leadership that enthusiastically declares, “If I win, you win. If I lose, you lose.” On the contrary, a competitive environment argues, “If I win, you lose. If you win, I lose.” An authoritative voice insists, “My winning or losing has nothing to do with you; your winning or losing has nothing to do with me.”
Our core values are so close to the center of who we are that we tend to be very protective of them until a personal relationship has been established. The fact that these values are so central to what’s important to us individually makes it all the more important to provide opportunities for all group members to dialogue about its collective core values as a basis for establishing decision-making structures and positive collaborative relationships.
How has your core values shaped your relationships with others?
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